On a recent visit to Lewes I had a few of hours to spare before an evening meeting.
This gave me the opportunity for another look around this wonderful historical town. I knew that Lewes had its own local community currency and as a supporter of localism I naturally wanted to spend some Lewes pounds. After changing my money at the town hall bureau de change, I made a beeline for the Needlemakers for coffee and a bite to eat, paid for with Lewes pounds.
Although I had been to Lewes on a number of occasions before, I had never been to Lewes Castle. Now I had the time to take a look. To my astonishment and disappointment when I asked if I could pay for my entrance ticket with Lewes pounds, I was told that they didn’t accept them.
Why on earth not?
Looking around the castle gift shop I found that there were toy soldiers, tea towels, cups and mugs and maybe more items that were made locally. Surely this would be the ideal opportunity to pay with Lewes pounds. The castle has been the focal point of Lewes for nearly 1,000 years and is celebrated on the Lewes pound itself. It seems odd to me that the castle shop does not accept Lewes pounds as the Lewes pound is promoting the castle in such a unique way.
The Lewes pound is equal to the pound sterling so there is no problem with exchange rate fluctuations. The castle shop has to pay local craft people for their products, so why not use the Lewes Pound that comes through the door?
I understand that the founders of the Lewes pound have approached the owners of the castle with a view to accepting Lewes pounds in their gift shop, but with no success. Maybe the castle owners think the Lewes pound is a passing phase, a flash in the pan, or just another mad idea? It is not. It’s a growing movement. Several towns and communities have launched their own currencies: 2002 the Findhorn community in Scotland, 2007 Totnes, 2008 Lewes, 2009 saw the Stroud and Brixton pound, 2012 the Bristol pound. There are more towns that are keen to follow. Oxford – close to where I live – is in the process of establishing its own local currency.
As a regular visitor to Lewes I feel the castle owners are missing out by not supporting the Lewes community in this way.